Sharing God's Truth in Holland, MI

Justification and the Believer

Speech #3 of Justification: The Heart of the Gospel

Rev. William Langerak


One thing yet remains in this timely and enriching conference on the subject, “Justification by Faith Alone.” Previous speakers have carefully explained the truth of it. And because almost every attack upon it through the ages has taken the same form, namely by injecting the works of the sinner as a basis for our justification, these speakers have carefully distinguished between justification and sanctification, showed the necessary relationship between them, and demonstrated that justification occurs both objectively and subjectively without any respect to our works, whether good or evil, in body or soul, from the flesh or regenerated spirit. It has been shown that when it comes to justification, our works simply have no place whatsoever. What has been taught is the truth of justification as generally understood by the church for some 2000 years, but especially as developed, formulated and taught by the church of the Reformation over against the pernicious errors of Rome and the Arminians. The thing that remains in this conference is to explain the significance of this truth for the everyday life of the believer.

The general significance of this truth has already been noted. The theme of this conference uses the fond description given it by the church in the past, “the heart of the gospel.” Previous speakers noted Luther called it, “the article upon which the church stands or falls” and Calvin, “the main hinge upon which religion turns.” We might add that the general significance of justification is also indicated by the depth of treatment it has received by such theologians. For example, in Book Three of his Institutes, Calvin devotes nine of the 25 chapters to justification, compared with one each on faith and regeneration, and three on predestination—so much for stereo-types. He also devotes eight chapters to sanctification, reducing the charge that the Reformed have no place for good works, to outright slander. The general significance of justification was also clear from the text we read, where Scripture not only defends this truth, but calls those who try to overthrow it “dogs” and “evil-workers.”

It is the purpose of this speech, however, to demonstrate from Scripture, the confessions, and Reformed writers, the specific practical benefits the truth of justification affords the believer, and to do this while demonstrating what is forfeited when any other notion of justification is entertained. Furthermore, it is my intention to concentrate on those aspects of justification that apply to our present earthly life, since previous speakers have mentioned the significance of justification for our eternal life and glory.

The practical significance of this truth for our present earthly life is important to demonstrate for two reasons. First, so that believers will be encouraged to battle with great zeal and personal cost for this truth over against error. Even at this present hour, supposedly conservative Reformed and Presbyterian leaders boldly claim that this truth as developed, formulated and taught by the church of the Reformation, is deformed, illegitimate, and diseased. In their opinion thousands of believers offered their backs to the whips, their tongues to the knives, their mouths to the gags, and their bodies to the fire not for the truth of God’s Word, but for a colossal, theological mistake made by our Reformed fathers. This most recent attack, which goes by the name “Federal Vision,” does more than belittle the dear cost paid in the past by Reformed believers to maintain this truth, a despicable thing all by itself. But by assaulting the biblical truth of justification, which is indeed the very heart of the gospel, proponents rob the believer of it practical and saving benefits, and God of His glory. Believers, therefore, must know these benefits of justification for their everyday life, so they personally are moved to maintain it, even at great personal cost.

In the second place, the practical benefits of the truth of justification must be demonstrated so that believers will avail themselves of them. There is a danger that we simply view justification as a theological abstraction and the battle over it as a family quarrel over semantics. The fact is where justification is misunderstood, rejected or overthrown, there simply can be no enjoyment of the rich benefits it provides, only misery.

Justification Establishes the Righteousness of God and our Legal Relationship to All Things

To understand the significance of justification by faith alone for the every day life of the believer, it is first necessary to know what sets it apart from every other aspect of salvation. What is it that makes justification the heart of the gospel, the main hinge upon which religion turns, and the article upon which the church stands or falls? If you suppose the reason is that justification most clearly reveals the sovereign discretion, grace, and mercy of God in salvation apart from the will, worth, and works of men, you would be mistaken. It is true the doctrine of justification clearly reveals these things, but not exclusively or even primarily so. God’s electing love, enlivening regeneration, transforming sanctification, and indeed every part of salvation equally reveal that God saves apart from the will, worth, or work of the sinner. It could even be argued that election more clearly reveals the divine prerogative in salvation, or that sanctification more clearly reveals the divine power in salvation, or regeneration the passivity of man under God’s work.
What sets justification apart and gives it its unique significance is this: Of all the aspects of salvation we enjoy, justification reveals and extols the legal right of the triune God, i.e. His righteousness both within His own being and in His dealings with mankind. And this issue of God’s righteousness is fundamental for the enjoyment of salvation in the Christian life and is what makes justification the heart of the gospel.

God’s righteousness refers to the truth that within His own being and in all His dealings with the creation, particularly mankind, the triune God acts according to the standard of His own ethical goodness. Implied also is the right of God to insist upon and maintain that standard. The righteousness of God is not appreciated much anymore in the churches today. In fact, it would be fair to say that failure to honor it underlies most movements to reject the truth of justification. Churches today may be interested in personal improvement and even deliverance from misery. But as Abraham Kuyper once charged, the whole matter is merely one of “calling for the assistance of the Great Physician, who receives His fee and then is discharged with a few thanks. The question of right does not enter into the matter at all; so long as the sinner is made holy, all is well.”1

God’s righteousness is basic to the Christian faith. It is an essential perfection of God’s own being and activity; if God were unrighteous or act unrighteously, He would not be God. Consider also that along with knowledge and holiness, it is a perfection God communicated to man when He created him in His own image, and is a perfection He immediately restores by Christ in the new man. In addition, the person and every work of Jesus Christ has as its purpose to reveal the righteousness of God. On the cross, rather than let sin go unpunished, God punished the same in His beloved Son, would accept only the sacrifice of His righteousness as satisfaction for sin, and rewarded Him righteously with highest honor and glory for His work. The Heidelberg Catechism teaches Jesus was provided to restore us to righteousness (Q&A16), suffered to obtain for us righteousness (Q&A37), died to satisfy the righteousness of God (Q&A40), and arose and ascended to make us partakers of that righteousness (Q&A45 & 49). He, Jesus Christ, the mystery of godliness, was even Himself justified in the Spirit (1Tim. 3:16) to reveal God’s righteousness.

Should it surprise us then that justification, the forensic, juridical, and legal act of God declaring us righteous on the basis of the cross, is the heart of the gospel? It is so because it establishes God’s righteousness. It reveals God to be the Lawgiver who establishes right and wrong, the Judge who determines what is in conformity with that law, and King who rules in righteousness, punishing or rewarding according to His law. And since it establishes God’s righteousness, it reveals the wonder of His grace in justifying men. As Herman Bavinck put it, “What God most strictly condemns in His holy law, namely the justification of the wicked (Deut. 25:1), what He says of Himself He will never do (Exo. 23:7), that He nevertheless does. But He does it without jeopardizing His righteousness. This is the wonder of the gospel.”2

The further significance of justification, then, is that because it reveals God’s righteousness in establishing a relationship with us, it serves as the legal basis for every relationship of the believer. Abraham Kuyper rightly noted, “Right regulates relations. Right is the basis especially of interpersonal relationships. All are first established and developed on a legal basis, that of right.”3 And so, our justification serves as the basis for our relationship to the world, relationship to sin, to death, to the law, to the church, to every member of the church, to every member of the world, but especially to our relationship to God. There can be no relationship with God apart from justification, and no subsequent change in our condition by God unless there is first a change in our status, that is our legal relationship to God, the legal right of God over us.

Kuyper again: “It is evident that regeneration, calling and conversion, yea, even complete reformation and sanctification, are not sufficient. For although these are very glorious and deliver you from sin’s stain and pollution…yet they do not touch your juridical relation to God. Every member of the church must…realize his juridical position to God, now and forever, that he is not merely man or woman, but a creature belonging to God, absolutely controlled by God, and guilty and punishable when not acting according to the will of God.”4

We will now examine more closely the significance of justification for the believer in these relationships.

Justification and our Relationship to the Church

Justification is basic to our relationship with the church of Jesus Christ. First, it implies that right church membership is essential. To enjoy the benefits of justification by faith alone, one must be a member where it is taught and believed. The reason is that justification is received by means of official worship. By his words in worship, the publican was justified, and by his words in worship the Pharisee was condemned (Matt. 12:37). Christ’s declaration that one is justified is heard only through the right and official preaching of the gospel by ministers called and sent. Christ must speak, for only God can forgive sins. Only God can justify. And he chooses to do so through preaching. Besides, preaching that has at its heart the declaration sinners who believe in Christ are justified, is the primary mark of the true church.

The importance of justification for church membership explains why Luther called it the article upon which the church stands or falls. A true church is one that preaches justification by faith alone, and nothing contrary to it. A church that will not and does not preach justification by faith alone is no church. Where justification by faith alone is rejected and another form of justification is taught, there simply can be no justification of sinners. It may have the form of pure religion and undefiled, but it justifies no member.

In this regard, I think that preaching which declares sinners justified some other way, is no different than a radical Muslim cleric who teaches his followers they are received into the favor of God for killing infidels by detonating a suicide bomb strapped to their waist. It may be believed so that some give up their life for this cause, but what they preach simply does not happen. So also, where the preacher declares that one is justified by faith and works of faith, no one is justified. They can declare it, but it simply isn’t true.

As regards our relationship to the church, justification also serves as the basis for our essential unity as members of the church and right judgment of one another. It is in this connection that Calvin spoke of the  judgment of love or charity. He noted that because unholiness and hypocrisy always exist in the church and in every member, sanctification all by itself cannot be used as a mark of the true church, or any member for that matter. Judgment must be according to love, that is, according to how we ourselves would be judged by other believers in the light of God’s gracious justification of us. This is what Jesus was referring to when He said, “Judge not according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24), and “with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged” (Matt. 7:2). We should keep that in mind in our dealing with one another. We are even required to pray, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive the sins of others.”

The reason justification serves as the basis for our unity, and of right judgment of one another is because it is the great equalizer in the church of Jesus Christ. Justification is the legal basis for spiritual equality. The Westminster Catechism takes note of this significant fact: “Justification doth equally free all believers from the revenging wrath of God and that perfectly, in this life, that they never fall into condemnation. Sanctification is neither equal in all, nor in this life, perfect in any” (Q&A77). Justification is the one thing that all members of the church, from little children to the oldest saints, share in common. There will be differences in race, gender, gifts, social standing, economic position, and education. There will be differences of growth in sanctification—children who spiritually mature early and adults who are yet spiritually children—but all must be viewed and treated as equals on the basis of their justification.

Justification and our Relationship to the World: Our Flesh and Sin

The doctrine of justification is also significant for our relationship to the world and things that belong to it. Justification changes our entire relationship to the creation, to the law, to sin, and to members of the world. This change in our relationship to the world and the things in it, is indicated in Scripture. The operative phrase is that we “are dead to” them. By this Scripture means that our legal relationship to them is severed so that they no longer have any right over us, while at the same time a new relationship is established with Jesus Christ so we can derive all life and benefit from Him.

We note in the first place that Scripture teaches justification changes the relationship to our own flesh, which has its origins in this world, and the sins which have their source in our flesh. Justification makes us dead to sin and the law of sin in our flesh. For example, 1Peter 2:24 says Christ “bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness.” And Romans 6:1-2: “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?”

Justification, then, is the basis, possibility, and certainty of sanctification, the deliverance from the actual power of sin in our flesh. Justification and sanctification, then, are necessarily and inseparably related; the  relationship is that of legal to actual, status to condition, right to reception, imputation to indwelling. And they are necessarily and inseparably related exactly because it is God that justifies. Justification gives the believer the right to be delivered from the dominion of sin. Through it the right of sin to reign in his flesh is legally overthrown. And, since justification occurs through means of faith—the living, organic connection to Jesus Christ established by God—the believer certainly will be delivered from the power of sin. This explains why the Heidelberg Catechism can so boldly proclaim that it is impossible that the doctrine of justification by faith alone makes men careless and profane (Q&A64). Because of their relationship to Christ by justification through faith, the believer is now dead to sin so that it is impossible that the life of Christ fail to actuate them to a new and godly life. Justification does not depend upon sanctification, but is the legal basis and certainty of it.

That one is justified does not mean sin is dead in the flesh of the believer. That should be clear not only from our experience, but Scripture. Job talked of the iniquities of his youth and that he abhorred himself because of his sin. While David speaks of his integrity in Psalm 7:8, he also confesses his iniquity and his depravity in Psalm 51. “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” And the apostle Paul, a justified saint, remarked, “With the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin” (Rom. 7:25).

The believer must also recognize the presence of in-dwelling sin because faith is counted for righteousness in the man who “believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly” (Rom. 4:5). I believe this to be true, even when speaking of subjective justification. The benefits of justification are experienced continually in our lives not only when we humbly confess our past sin and depravity, but especially when we confess that while justified and sanctified saints, we remain sinners in our flesh. We must accept personal responsibility for our depravity and the sin that issues forth from it like a flood. Otherwise, we become “the whole” who have no need of the physician and “the righteous” who have no need for repentance” (Mark 2:17-18). In the words of Calvin, “to obtain Christ’s righteousness, we must abandon our own righteousness…The heart cannot be open to receive God’s mercy unless it be utterly empty of all opinion of it’s own worth” (Institutes, 3.11.3 and 3.12.7). An example is the publican, who was justified when he cried out, “Be merciful to me, a sinner”—not, “be merciful to me, who used to be a sinner.”

The above, explains why the Heidelberg Catechism includes an entire section on our misery prior to the section on our deliverance where justification is proclaimed. A Reformed preacher does not skip this section and simply go on to preach our deliverance with the attitude, “Well, this stuff about sin, our misery, and depravity is something we used to be and used to need deliverance from.” It, too, is there for our comfort; it is there so we properly evaluate ourselves as we are by nature because it is necessary to enjoy justification. It is necessary because Jesus delivers and gives righteousness to the poor, the needy, the oppressed, the humble, the mourning, the weary and heavy laden, the hungry and thirsty after righteousness. Even the justified, regenerated, and sanctified apostle Paul could still confess, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” (1Tim. 1:15). Bavinck made the point this way: “Even though the believer shares in the forgiveness of sins (justification) he must consciously, from day to day, keep appropriating it by faith in order to enjoy the assurance and comfort of it. It is true that there are many who continue to live on the basis of a bygone experience and are content with that, but such is not the Christian life.”5

Understanding justification’s change in our relationship to sin (that we are dead to sin, but sin is not dead in us) is also important so we do not minimize sin or God’s law. Previous speakers have pointed out the striking fact that those who attack the truth of justification on the basis that it hinders the performance of good works, generally do not uphold the standard of God’s law or hold it in high esteem themselves. This was true of the self-justifying Pharisees who paid lip service to the law in Jesus’ day. This was true of the Arminians and followers of John Wesley. There is a reason for this. If one is justified in part by his works according to the standard of God’s law, then that standard must be attainable. Otherwise no sinner can be justified. The result of such thinking invariably is that the perfection demanded by the law is lessened, either by saying the law only demands perfect outward performance, or that God accepts imperfect performance as the basis of justification. Striking too, that when this is done, good works in the eyes of men become evil in the eyes of God, since they are not fruits of thankfulness for our justification, but are means to attain justification. This phenomena also explains the complaint voiced by the Presbyterian theologian, John Murray. “Far too frequently we fail to entertain the gravity of our sin against God. This is the reason why this grand article of justification does not ring the bells in the innermost depths of our spirit. This is the reason why the gospel of justification is to such an extent a meaningless sound in the world and in the church of the 20th century.”6

Justification and our Relationship to the World: The Natural Creation

As regards the significance of justification for our relationships in the world, justification also is the basis for the believer’s relationship to the natural creation. Being justified, we are also made dead to the world in that sense. However, we must quickly add that at the same time we are reconciled to the world, which is also redeemed in Christ. That is brought out in two texts in 2 Corinthians. In chapter 4:14-15 Paul says one benefit of justification is that all things are now for your sakes. And in chapter 5:17-18 he says, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation.”

What does this all mean? First, the believer is made dead to the world in the same sense that he is made dead to sin. We are dead to the affects of every evil. They simply cannot change our relationship to God. The evil works for our benefit, enlivening the new man and crucifying the old. Satan, even when tempting us, serves our Lord. This is what Calvin was referring to, when in the context of justification, he remarked that although we are redeemed from a world that otherwise confines and oppresses us, all things now work together for our good” (Institutes, 3.15.8). Our comfort is not simply in God’s providence. Our comfort, as the Heidelberg Catechism teaches, is that the God of providence is my Father, who established that new adoptive relationship when I was justified (Q&A27). Bavinck again: “The earmark of the justified is that in the midst of oppression and persecution to which they are exposed on every hand in the world, they put their trust in the Lord and seek their salvation and blessedness in Him alone. Nowhere is there any deliverance for them, neither in themselves nor in any creature, but in the Lord their God alone.”7

This fact explains why, immediately after teaching that “it is God that justifies,” Paul asks those comforting rhetorical questions, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword” (Rom. 8:36)? Being justified, they are all either averted by God our justifying Father, or they are turned to our profit. Either way, once justified, providence and the world, and even the evil of this world serves our salvation.

Secondly, this truth of justification by faith means that our attitude toward the things of this earthly creation is changed. As Col. 3:2-3 teaches: “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ.” Or 1John 2:15: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.” This attitude toward the world that is the result of our justification, is captured by Paul in Phil. 3:8 we read earlier: “I count [since I am justified] all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung.” Calvin called this attitude a real contempt for this life, adding, “Indeed there is no middle ground between these two. Either the world must become worthless to us, or hold us bound by intemperate love of it” (Institutes, 3.9.1-2).
Thirdly, justification also establishes the right use of the world by the believer. It is important to remember that this contempt we are to have for the world is not absolute since the creation is being redeemed, and given for our benefit as justified believers. Hence, justification serves as the basis for what we call Christian liberty. As Bavinck put it so well, “The believer who is justified in Christ is the freest creature in the world.”8 This connection probably explains why in his section on justification Calvin also treated the subject of Christian liberty. He saw that since we are dead to the world on the basis of our justification, Christian liberty condemns any unbiblical restrictions upon the use of the good things in this creation. Since we are dead with Christ from the rudiments of this world, while living in it we are not subject to ordinances such as touch not, taste not, or handle not (Col. 2:20). Calvin says of those who want to restrict the use of this creation to such laws or even their necessary use, that they “fetter the consciences more tightly than does the Word,” and “deprive us of the lawful fruit of God’s beneficence.” (Institutes, 3.10.1).

As regards the lawful use of this present creation by the justified, Calvin is helpful when he gives us two main principles to live by. The first is that we use this creation as though not using it, or enjoy the gifts of it as though not having them. The operative attitude for Calvin is indifference. For him, adiaphora  were truly the things indifferent, i.e. can only be used lawfully when we are indifferent to them or, to use biblical language, we are dead to them. Secondly, Calvin taught that being justified, we must use and enjoy the creation conscious that we are stewards who must give an account to our Father in the day of Christ.

Justification and our Relationship to God: Peace

We move finally to the significance of the doctrine of justification for our relationship to God.

In the first place we notice that justification is the exclusive means by which we are reconciled to God, that is, by which we enjoy any peaceful and blessed relationship to God. Negatively, that means those who justify themselves are not and cannot be reconciled to God. We are now not so concerned with those who would do so by excusing their sin, but those who attempt to attain justification on the basis of their own works, either in whole or in part. It makes no difference what kind of works they try to make a part of their justification—whether works supposedly performed by an unregenerated person, or good works supposedly done with a sanctified heart. One who believes they play some part in their justification, simply is not justified, either in actuality or the experience.

Bavinck again: “You either have all of Christ’s righteousness or none of it. You cannot get a part of it and fill in the rest ourselves.” In Luke 18:44 Jesus declared frankly to the Pharisees who attempted this, that they were not justified. His sharp word to all who use their works as the basis for their righteousness before God, is this: “Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15). The result of self-justification is everlasting death under the wrath of God. “The man who doeth those things shall live by them,” that is he will not live at all but die by them (Rom. 10:5). The official judgment of the Reformed is that “if we should appear before God, relying on ourselves or any other creature, though ever so little, we should, alas! be consumed” (Belgic Confession, Art. 23).

But for those who believe that they are justified by means of faith alone, the pre-eminent benefit is peace with God, according to Romans 5:1. About this text Calvin remarked, “There Paul says that no peace or quiet joy are retained unless we are convinced we are justified by faith. Those that prate that we are justified by faith because being reborn we are righteous by living spiritually, have never tasted the sweetness of grace” (Institutes, 3.13.5).

Justified, we have peace with God because he removes the guilt of sin from our conscience. Peace with God as regards guilt from sin is what Luther so desired and what drove him to inquire as to what Scripture says. Trying to achieve righteousness through works, he was terrified in his own conscience. But forsaking all that and being justified by faith, all that was taken away.

Then too, we are granted peace with God, because he grants unto us the right to enjoy every blessing in Jesus Christ. Justification is the basis for our adoption as His sons and daughters to enjoy all the rights and privileges of the inheritance which is His kingdom, and to live in conscious fellowship with Him which is the covenant of grace. This ought to thrill every one of us this evening who love God’s covenant, that fellowship with God we enjoy and receive being justified.

Justification and our Relationship to God: God-glorifying Worship and a Thankful Holy Life

Finally, we note that justification is the basis for proper worship, heartfelt praise, honor, and glory of God, whether by word or deed. Without justification, there can be holy living in thankfulness, which is a form of worship. Calvin noted this too. After calling justification the main hinge upon which religion turns, he goes on to explain why: “Unless you first grasp what your relation to God is and the nature of His judgment concerning you, you have neither a foundation upon which to establish your salvation, nor one on which to build piety toward God” (Institutes, 3.11.1). Here, Calvin turns the tables on all advocates of justification by works, faith and works, or faith and the works of faith. Against their charge that the doctrine of justification by faith alone hinders a holy life, he rightly claims that without it men cannot and will not live piously.

History confirms this assertion. For whenever the doctrine of justification by faith alone is overthrown, rejected, or minimized, members of the church become more unholy and profane (as one previous speaker already noted). The reason is that a holy life is the fruit of thankfulness to God for His free grace in justifying us. Whenever we believe we have some part, though ever so small, in our justification, we cannot be thankful to God. Instead we will not only be proud and complacent, but, as Calvin claims, “attempt to our great harm to filch from the Lord the thanks we owe his free kindness” (Institutes, 3.13.1).

There can be no real worship, heartfelt praise, honor and glory to God, with a doctrine of justification by faith and works—only self glory. Or as Scripture declares, “If Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God” (Rom. 4:2). And this is abhorrent in the sight of God, for it robs him of the glory of his righteousness. Calvin again: “Whoever glories in himself, glories against God. Man cannot without sacrilege, claim for himself even a crumb of righteousness, for just so much is plucked and taken away from the glory of God’s righteousness” (Institutes, 3.13.2).

But when we believe we are justified by faith alone, there will be true and acceptable thanksgiving, praise, honor and glory to God expressed in our lives and in worship. This occurs because, as we stated earlier, when God justifies us, He establishes and causes us to experience in the most wonderful way his righteousness, which in turn magnifies and extols his grace. This is why Scripture calls the gospel of righteousness a glorious gospel. The Lord’s purpose in bestowing righteousness upon us graciously in Christ through justification by faith alone is “to declare His own righteousness” (Rom. 3:26). He wills that every mouth be stopped and all the world be rendered guilty before Him (Rom. 3:19ff), because as long as man has anything to say in his defense he detracts from God’s glory.

Without being justified by faith alone, there can be no confidence before the righteousness of God either. Calvin again: “One can easily and readily prattle about the value of works in justifying men. But when we come before the presence of God we must away such amusements. How shall we reply to the heavenly judge when He calls us to an account. Let us envisage for ourselves that Judge. Not as our minds naturally imagine Him, but as He is depicted for us in Scripture. By whose brightness the stars are darkened, by whose strength the mountains are melted, by whose wrath the earth is shaken, whose wisdom catches the wise in their craftiness, besides whose purity all things are defiled, whose righteousness not even the angels can bear, who makes not the guilty man innocent, whose vengeance when once kindled penetrates to the depths of hell. Let us behold Him, I say, sitting in judgment to examine the deeds of men. Who will stand confident before His throne? The answer is the man who is justified by faith alone and only that man” (Institutes, 3.12.1).

All these benefits for the justified believer as regards his relationship to God are summarized in one of the most beautiful passages of the Reformed Confessions: “The result of being justified freely by His grace is that the believer ascribes all glory to God, humbles himself before God, and acknowledging ourselves such as we really are, relies and rests upon the obedience of Christ crucified alone. This gives us confidence in approaching to God, freeing the conscience of fear terror and dread. Therefore, as Hebrews 4:16 puts it, we may come boldly unto that throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Belgic Confession, Art. 23). And if these were the only benefits of justification by faith alone, it should be enough to motivate us to fight hell itself for this doctrine. And many have.

We conclude with a fitting quote from Martin Luther: “Whoever departs from the article of justification does not know God and is an idolater. For when this article has been taken away, nothing remains but error, hypocrisy, godlessness and idolatry, although it may seem to be the height of truth, worship of God, and holiness.” Give thanks to God for this unspeakable gift.

This lecture was hosted by the Evangelism Committee of the First Protestant Reformed Church of Holland. For an audio copy, please contact us.

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